CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Pattern can both direct our actions and help us interpret our experiences. A new exhibition at Krannert Art Museum, “Pattern and Process,” asks viewers to consider how artists use pattern to understand the world.
“The exhibition includes a broad range of works by artists using pattern in very different ways, but I believe they’re all prompting the viewer to be more aware of and connected to our world. The works encourage more inquiry and reflection than provide answers,” exhibition curator Kathryn Koca Polite said.
Many of the works will be new to visitors. Around half of the 40-plus works were acquired within the last five years, and many are being exhibited for the first time, Koca Polite said.
Using a broad definition of pattern, the exhibition is divided into three sections: “Exploring Form and Function,” “Navigating Physical Worlds” and “Evoking the Personal.” Koca Polite discussed below the significance and background of some of the key works in the exhibition.
The section on form and function features artwork that often is analytical, exploring patterns that occur in science, nature and language. For example, a glass sculpture by Steffen Dam, “Flower Block,” encases what appear to be botanical specimens but actually are imaginative recreations by the artist, describing the world as he sees it. A larger-than-life glass sculpture titled “Pit” by Czech artist Ivan Mareš plays with form and scale, enlarging a stone fruit pit to a monumental size.
Nigerian-born contemporary artist Victor Ekpuk employs nsibidi, a language of ideographic symbols used by the Epke men’s association in southeastern Nigeria. In “Composition No. 10,” Ekpuk alternates densely packed script with bold colors in horizontal patterns to create a drawing that references West African strip cloth weaving.
Cloth, weaving and fiber art are present throughout the exhibition. “Olive Angel,” a work by the late local weaver Dot Replinger, is composed of densely woven tubular strips of wool that are draped in winged curves. At the time Replinger was creating this work in the late 1970s, fiber artists were challenging the distinction between craft and fine art and were moving from flat weave to those with a more sculptural quality.
The section also includes a print by Anni Albers, a weaver who eventually became a prolific printmaker. “Enmeshed II” is a print that looks like looped thread that has been released from a loom, appearing loose and incomplete. Albers printed the image slightly off-register so its subtle white edges make it appear three-dimensional.
“Navigating Physical Worlds” explores how pattern helps us locate ourselves within the physical world. Patterns emerge in daily routines and behaviors and can be markers of history in the landscape and built environment. Works in this section also consider how we navigate the world when commonly understood patterns are disrupted.
A wall hanging by Jacob Hashimoto, “A Hundred Years of Sleep,” is a layered composition made of suspended kites – bamboo and rice paper ovals that are strung at different intervals. The images on his kites reference both the digital, in the form of virtual environments and cosmology, and the analog, representing artistic traditions and handcrafted work.
“Hashimoto talks about handcrafted pixelation. When you look at this work, different patterns pop out – images emerge and recede depending on where you stand,” Koca Polite said.
Mavis Pusey is a Jamaica-born abstract artist who early on worked as a pattern maker for Singer in London. She took up printmaking in the 1960s and became recognized in the New York abstract art scene. Pusey made “Frozen Vibrations,” inspired by the chaos and noise of demolition and construction in New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The print uses the visual language of music by showing broken-down notes and staffs to convey the cacophony of sounds and vibrations.
Finally, “Evoking the Personal" features artists who use pattern to help access emotions, assert identities and make connections across time.
First Nations artist Sonny Assu (Ligwiłda'xw of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nations) makes art that grapples with Western and Indigenous art traditions. His print “Spaced Invaders” reproduces a painting by Emily Carr, whose depictions of Indigenous sites represented First Nations cultures as fragments of a lost past. Assu painted bold graphics inspired by Northwest Coast formlines on top of the reproduction. The brightly colored graphics seem to pop out in 3D form and assert First Nations identity very much in the present.
Two artists in this section use fabric to reflect on relationships over time. Betsy Packard used her grandmother’s wedding suit to create “Solemn Vow.” Packard meticulously deconstructed the suit and transformed it into an altarpiece that carries the history of her grandmother.
Louise Bourgeois made intensely personal art that investigated complex emotional states. In her work “Ears,” Bourgeois repeated the image of her ear in a grid pattern on a piece of fabric from her wedding trousseau. "She then punctured a hole where the ear canals were located and embroidered the holes in black thread, symbolically referencing repair and reconnection – and possibly suggesting conflicts in her past relationships," Koca Polite said.
"Patterns and Process" is open at Krannert Art Museum through Dec. 22. A public opening night reception is scheduled for March 2 from 5-7 p.m. Other public programs include a "Knit and Sit" on March 11 and "Storytime In the Gallery" on April 1.